There’s more to the Gardens restaurant story

The article in your last edition didn’t quite tell the complete story, leaving out many details. The article gives the impression the restaurant proposal considered by the Village Council at its January meeting was a bad deal when in fact, the exact opposite is true. So, let’s take a look at the facts.

The revenue generated from the restaurant would have solely been used to offset the cost of operating Pinecrest Gardens, which costs Village taxpayers approximately $1.7 million per year. A survey of Village residents conducted in January 2010 revealed that over 70 percent of those surveyed are in support of restoring the former Parrot Jungle cafeteria, now known as Cypress Hall. A Village-wide election held Nov. 6, 2012 further confirmed residents’ desire for a restaurant when 62 percent of voters approved a measure that would exclude food service leases in Cypress Hall from the five-year maximum lease restriction. And a 2002 Village Master Plan approved by the Village Council includes a restaurant which would provide revenues to under write park operations.

The Village Council spent more than a year-and-a-half developing guidelines critical to assuring the new restaurant would be compatible and complimentary to both the environmental and cultural aspects of Pinecrest Gardens, as well as, the needs of nearby neighbors.

The decision to put out a request for proposals (RFP) for an eatery in Pinecrest Gardens was made after Adelfi Group, a restaurant and hospitality consulting firm that has worked on local public-private, conducted a thorough market analysis in May 2012 for a food service element in Pinecrest Gardens based on the objectives set forth by the Village Council. The Adelfi market analysis recommended a restaurateur invest in the space, namely Cypress Hall, by building it out and operating it with a lease agreement, making the venture profitable for both entities while providing a food amenity to Pinecrest Gardens. The decision to put out an RFP based on the Adelfi recommendation was made June 2012 by a Village Council unanimous vote.

Only one group, Pinecrest Gardens Cafe, LLC, headed by Scott Silver and Lalo Durango responded to the RFP by the extended deadline of Jan. 19, 2013. Mr. Durango has successful local restaurants including Talavera in Coral Gables and Jaguar and Peacock Garden Café in Coconut Grove.

The Village Council unanimously authorized the Village Manager to negotiate proposed contract in February 2013. Once the terms were finalized, the contract was reviewed by Barry Abramson, of the Abramson and Associates financial firm, who specializes in assisting public clients in evaluation, strategic planning, and transaction and development for public-private development projects. Abramson has worked with public-private ventures, including Village at Merrick Park, Gables Grand and Hollywood’s Margaritaville.

Mr. Abramson spoke before the Council at the Nov. 18 workshop in favor of the contract proposed by Pinecrest Gardens Cafe LLC. Abramson stated in a report he submitted to the Village Council the proposed lease is reasonable in terms of costs and benefits to the Village. The Council voted unanimously during the same meeting in favor of directing the Village Manager to continue negotiations with Silver, who handles legal, business, finance and government relations for Pinecrest Gardens Cafe LLC.

The contract was also reviewed by attorney W. Reeder Glass, who worked for the Holland and Knight Law Firm and by attorney Harold Patricoff of Shutts and Bowen, LLP, who is a member of the Pinecrest Gardens Advisory Committee. The Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Pastoriza, Cole and Boniske law firm also reviewed the contract to assure the contract has the proper legal safeguards in place to protect the Village.

The lease amount paid by the restaurant for the first year would have been $122,000 with the amount increasing by 2 percent each following year. In addition, the Village would have received 6 percent of the gross revenues over the base rent starting the second year. The Village’s investment would have been recaptured in six years.

Pinecrest Gardens Cafe LLC proposed to renovate Cypress Hall, which was gutted after damage from Hurricane Wilma rendering the 4,740 square-foot room inoperable. The renovation is estimated to cost $1.1 million and would have included interior build out and finishes, impact resistant windows, restroom build-out, furniture, exterior lighting, non-kitchen equipment and kitchen build-out including equipment. The Village would have paid half the cost, matching up to $550,000, and would have constructed necessary site improvements that include the relocation of the existing ticket booth and ATM machine, renovation of the drop-off area and circular drive, upgrading the septic capacity and build-out of a 770 square-foot exterior deck.

In accordance with the proposed lease agreement, had the restaurant not been successful, the Village would have taken possession of the built out space, including all furniture, fixtures and equipment. This would have potentially created a turn-key venture for another restaurateur.

Pinecrest Gardens Cafe LLC proposed building a restaurant with a “home away from home” feel where friends and families could have congregated after school or morning workout. Mr. Silver expressed that he wanted to create an environment that complements Pinecrest Gardens with farm fresh, locally produced meal options. Breakfast and lunch entrees would have started at $4 and $7, and dinner entrees at $12. Child menus and early dinning specials were also proposed.

The bottom line is that we have an empty unused space at the Gardens not generating any revenue. Our residents have expressed a clear desire for a restaurant. The Village has worked diligently to negotiate the best deal possible and yet, after all the work, effort, citizen input and votes of the Council, we are stuck. As a resident said to me recently after the vote in January, expressing his frustration, “Hey it’s just a restaurant.”

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